Major Tom Foolery

» April 9th, 2014

We all can’t stand industrial agriculture as we know it. So we try to make consumer choices to avoid its abuses. There are many ways to resist the machine, but—as I have repeatedly argued—the absolute most effective way to challenge agribusiness is to stop eating animal products and start eating an exclusive diet of whole plant-based foods. Although my crusade as a writer has been to improve the world for animals, I have always taken solace in the fact that we can eat in a way that helps animals while sticking it to industrial agriculture at the same time. I like that overlap.

The above remarks are exactly what I would have explained to Mother Jones‘ food/ag writer Tom Philpott had he contacted me before characterizing me as defender of the food industry in his most recent MJ piece. For those keeping score, when I wrote about Philpott for a Pacific Standard article, I took the time to correspond with him. But anyway, I’m sure readers of this blog will be surprised to learn that, according to TP, “McWilliams is playing his usual role: reasonable-sounding defender of a highly profitable but dysfunctional industry.”

The analysis certainly thrilled Mark Bittman, who tweeted it and thanked Philpott for his hard work. Interestingly, neither of these defenders of eating animal products—and thus defenders of eating the goods upon which industrial agriculture thrives—have taken the time to respond to my American Scholar essay, one that scares industrial food much more than all the support these writers offer to “humane” animal products from small farms that are doing little more than supporting the status quo at a higher price per pound.

In any case, consider me baffled.

7 Responses to Major Tom Foolery

  1. Mary Finelli says:

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a glitch with accessing the Pacific Standard article. Hopefully it’s very temporary.

  2. John T. Maher says:

    Radical reconfiguration of the American and world human diets to reject the consumption of animal flesh is not an industry-enabling position. That said, consumer ‘choice’ is not a viable mechanism for change as the effects of animal instrumentality are not an matter of choice for animals or the environment. The principle that such an overriding prohibition is the only overriding principle which can rationalize temporal measures of incremental animal welfare reforms. Without that conviction we are all enablers and the biggest Quislings are the ‘ethical’ food writers pushing happy meat such as Bitman.

    While change is imperative, secondary sources such as writers ought not to write about, characterize and quote each other because any dialectic evanesces and it becomes about the personalities and their egos. The New York Times, for example, is famous for believing that the world does not exist outside of its own offices and the nearby Conde Nast building. So the Fourth Estate be damned, Phillipot is a mere symptom of this constrained worldview, and all articles calling for change should focus on those non-inkstained wretches who comprise humanity in order to actually matter.

  3. Shane says:

    What nonsense!

    This author seems to love false dichotomies. You’re either a butter pusher or a margarine pusher. You either eat fake food or real food. Chemicals vs natural. Naturalistic fallacy rhetoric if you ask me.

    James McWilliam’s reasoning threatens his belief system, therefore JM must be on the side of the evil food corporations who are league with big pharma.

  4. Kip Sieger says:

    I’d read some other Philpott and while I took issue with his acceptance of “healthy/happy” animal foods, I also found some of his articles to have useful info. But this bit about defending a highly profitable but dysfunctional food industry left me shaking my head and lowered my my opinion of his work several huge notches.

  5. Ellen K says:

    Wow. Is this clearly deliberate mis-characterization just the work of vindictive ego, or should I ask, Who butters his bread? Not to be, like, cynical or anything….

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